It was another ordinary day: ride the bus, talk to friends, finish school work, ride the bus home. Quite simple when someone thinks about it. Except it was never an “easy day” for him. The day went more like this: wake up tired, listen to music on the bus while tired, talk to his friends while tired, and so on. Every day was the same day for the 17-year-old boy from Newfork, Saskatchewan. The only thing keeping him from moving away early was his family. His mother Andrea would be a mess if he did something that adventurous. And so he stayed, wallowing in the pleasure associated with attending St. Robert High School.
As he wandered down the hall, he wasn’t exactly immersed in his own self- fulfillment that accompanied him more often than not. Maybe it was the fact that he had broken up with his girlfriend a few nights beforehand— over the phone. Maybe it was him being stubborn, or maybe he was just having a bad morning. This time, when he talked to his friend Krissy, he didn’t enjoy it as much.
“Hey!” she said to him enthusiastically.
His first thought was to say “what the hell do you want now?” but he thought otherwise considering their already strained friendship.
“So I talked to Rene last night,” she said with an unusual look on her face.
“Nothing. I just thought I’d let you know that she isn’t doing very well.”
“Yeah. Umm… I assumed she wasn’t.”
“Well,” said Krissy, “I just thought I’d let you know that just because you two are broken up, you are still my friend.”
“Thanks Krissy,” he responded with a little too much sass behind his fake smile.
As she rambled on for another 10 minutes, the bell saved him. “Thank god,” he thought.
Eventually, the next 7 hours in St. Robert high school slowly moved along. Throughout the day, he had learned that Kylie was causing trouble with the girls again, Zane was smoking, and Breanna finally broke down and called up her ex-boyfriend Jack. In Newfork, Saskatchewan, this was hardly news. Small towns really irritated the boy. News travelled like wildfire out in rural areas, but his philosophy of the situation was that “those people can’t do anything but gossip.” “Headphones in, world out,” he thought.
The next week, on a mild September afternoon, he was T-boned by a vehicle in Saskatoon. His 21-year-old brother Laine was expecting to be picked up from the airport—he was working on the oil-patch in Alberta and his flight was redirected from Edmonton to Saskatoon— but a man slammed into their family’s Nissan Pathfinder. It wasn’t a hard hit—they were both travelling at 50 km/h—however, it was enough for the vehicle to go sideways and cause the airbags to eject. Finally finding his phone, he frantically called his brother.
“Laine!” he said breathlessly.
“Simon, where are you? I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes in this shithole,” Laine exclaimed angrily.
“I was just T-boned on 8th street by some stupid a—”
“Wait! What? Okay. I’ll call dad, and catch a cab to where you are. Where exactly are you?”
“I’m… umm…” Simon began looking around as he was running out of the other vehicles’ way onto the sidewalk.
“Simon calm down. Where are you?” asked Laine.
“I’m… I’m by the A&W. Actually right at the A&W,” muttered Simon.
“Okay, wait there!”
Eventually, Simon’s father and mother showed up, as did Laine. The cops arrived, and the day began to fill with cop and family interactions mixed with yelling and emotion. Simon’s father, Terry, called Blake—the oldest of the three sons— to inform him about the accident, and the condition Simon was in: a sore back and a migraine. In the meantime, the insurance calls started with both parents on the phone, and the police were surveying the incident’s location, trying to find out what exactly happened. While the day went by, the only thing he could think about was how great it was going to be to close his tired eyes.
On the way home, Simon began thinking about what the next few months were going to entail. Clearly, the vehicle was going to be written off, which would pay the Jayworth family money for what the SUV was worth. “God knows we need the money,” thought Simon. He was sure that his parents were thinking the same thing. Surprisingly, for the first time since the accident occurred, he started to laugh. Not obnoxiously enough to bring attention to himself from the rest of the family, but enough to cause him to think, “Why is this funny?” As he sat there, drowning in the apparent irony, the car pulled into the driveway of their house, 40 miles out of Saskatoon. Simon walked up the stairs, down the hall, and into his room. The musician posters seemed to drape his walls with a mysterious blackness, and so his laughter turned into a gut wrenching pain. The family’s oldest dog walked in, with a concerned look on his face and a wagging tail. At the sight of the beloved Reymond, the boy’s pain transcended into tears.
“Hey old man,” Simon murmured as he crawled into bed, tears streaming down his face.
Reymond jumped onto the bed, buried his face into Simon’s chest, and lay down. Simon moaned desperately, and the hot tears streaming down his red face became his lullaby. The tears engulfed him as the pain and utter agony faded away into a dreamless sleep.
“I think you’re fucking crazy
As the day’s long
Man to man, heart to heart”
- Lana Del Rey, Is This Happiness
“So… when were you going to tell me?”
“Tell you what?” asked Christian.
“That we have had soccer practice twice already without me there?” asked Simon confrontationally in the hallway.
“Well, the coach did tell us last Monday about those practices.” Simon gave him a look with his face that said “how stupid are you?” Christian didn’t notice, clearly.
“What you mean is, ‘the coach told me, Jordan, and Liam,’” Simon sarcastically said as the last bell of the day rang. Christian looked annoyed at his rather truthful statement.
“Well you should have known.”
“How stupid are you?” yelled Simon. “I’m always the last to know everything!”
“No you’re n—”
“Yes! I am!” exclaimed Simon. “Every time the so called ‘team’ is supposed to know something I’m the last to know. You and your stupid little jock clique are way too alike.” They were both angry now.
“Just because,” snapped Christian, “that you aren’t liked by your own god damn team mates and that you aren’t very good at soccer doesn’t mean that you gotta have a fucking hissy fit!”
“You know that I know I’m not very good,” retorted Simon, “but I try my freaking best at it… so sorry if you don’t appreciate that, you dick. I… I can’t even believe you right now.”
He stormed out, didn’t say goodbye as people were exchanging “see you laters”, and went to his dad’s vehicle. He threw his backpack in the truck and slammed the door behind as he got in. Simon’s headache was back, and just as he began yelling out harsh profanities, holding his temples with his head against the steering wheel, Leala walked up and knocked on the window. Leala was a light brown haired girl, with a womanly figure society deemed, and Simon deemed, attractive. With her hazel-green eyes and perfect personality, she was the only girl that Simon truly liked in Newfork.
Not everybody liked her, but he did because they grew up with each other; all the way from kindergarten. And so they talked to one another and were good friends. Sometimes they were taunted about liking each other, but they always denied it. If someone asked him “why don’t you go for her?” his answer was always the same: “Too good of friends.”
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Well you don’t seem fine.” Leala said with some sass.
“If only you knew,” he thought.
“Let me in,” Leala said to him as she walked around the Dodge pickup truck to the passenger door.
“Umm,” said Simon, “No.”
He laughed softly to himself as she gave him the same look Christian received earlier. Maybe he was hiding his emotions but it was a long day, and he was tired of fighting with people.
“Okay! Okay…” he replied while unlocking the door.
“Thank you!” Leala gave him a smile as she clambered into the truck.
“Don’t you have a bus to take?” he asked.
“No,” she said, “You’re giving me a ride.”
Rolling his eyes, Simon said, “Fine! But I won’t like it,” while smiling.
She laughed as they pulled away from the school—leaving a very worried bus driver behind.
“She prays the rosary
For my broken mind”
- Lana Del Rey, Body Electric
It was about six o’clock and Simon’s parents were calling his cell phone as if it was something that needed to be found— they thought he did need to be, considering he was usually home at around 3:50 PM, a half-hour after school ended. But he didn’t care. He was with Leala and it was perfect— but he did eventually call home.
“You know, I never realized you lived this far from town,” Leala commented. The truck was sitting on a hill overlooking the ranch and his house. She was gazing at the lush pasture that surrounded them.
Simon laughed. “Well yeah, how do you think that I’m such a good driver?”
From then on, it seemed as though the hours were motionless. The night crept upon them and they seemed small: just a bubble in the slow molasses that enveloped them—talking, listening, and savoring the moment.
Leala just finished calling her parents, telling them where she was, even though she would be punished in some way for not calling earlier. It was not until Leala spoke up that he realized it was 8:30 at night and that she somehow managed to rest her head on his shoulder with her arm around his body, the same way he had his. She finally spoke up:
“Why are you sad?” she asked.
Simon sat confused. “Wait, what?”
“Why are you sad?” she repeated.
“Where did that come from?” Simon answered defensively.
“Well,” she continued, “After everything you have told me, how you basically hate almost everyone in you school, how you have this low self-esteem, I’m just noticing now how sad you really are. Not in the ‘oh, you’re uncool’ kind of way, but just emotionally…” She struggled for the words. “Emotionally drained.”
She broke him.
Simon put the truck into ‘drive’ and said, “You’re going home.” He kept darting his eyes away from hers, as if they could bite him.
“What? No. Stop,” she demanded.
“No. You’re going home, and we are acting like we never did this. Everything is going back… to the way it was before.” The truck started to leave the hill and he realized how foolish he sounded. “The way it was before was terrible,” he thought.
“Stop the truck,” she commanded.
Simon rolled his eyes and said, “No,” with finality. Leala pulled the lock up, and opened the door while he was driving.
“I will jump out of this fucking vehicle right now if you don’t stop and talk to me.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Don’t give me that.”
She unclicked her seatbelt and looked at the ground, even though Simon was only going about 30 km/h in the field.
“Okay!” Simon exclaimed, “I’ll stop… before you hurt yourself!”
Simon slammed the brakes, hard enough to jar Leala, but not enough to hurt her.
“Thank you,” she said while closing the door. “Now answer my question.”
“Because it’s too damn hard!” Simon proclaimed, certainly fed up at this point. A moment passed, and he tried to keep his face in the darkness, to hide his eyes, not wanting her to see him become what he hated.
She crossed her legs on the seat, and looked at him. In the moment, her hand met his.
“Tell me.” She spoke softly, knowing he was fragile.
“You’ll think I’m being ridiculous,” he retorted softly. His voice began quavering, ever so slightly, as the denial swept over him.
“No. I won’t,” Leala assured. She edged closer to him. Simon’s voice shook.
“I… I just feel.”
She looked at him confused. “Feel… what?”
“I just feel so damn sad all the time,” he continued.
“I don’t understand how I can have such a great life, yet feel this way. Every person in the whole world, it seems like, has doubted me, or judged me in some way. I’ve been called gay, fat, asshole… everything you can think of. I know I’m different. I try not to be… but the people I know make me want to… just leave. I have thought about offing myself, I really have. But sitting there thinking ‘what happens afterwards?’ fills me with all this pain— all the pain I have every felt—and it rips me apart.”
Suffering to make it through their “heart to heart”, Simon cried harder without really wanting to. The pain in which filled his head began floating away; it was as if everything that had happened to him— the bullying, the depression, the car accident— was draining. He couldn’t stop it and he didn’t want to. Leala gripped his hand tighter and moved closer, almost having her body touch his. The humid and hot feeling of her breath draped over his face.
“I never have,” she whispered. He gave her a half laugh, embarrassed by his large emotions.
Gazing into her bright hazel- green eyes, Simon asked, “Never what?”
“Doubted you,” she hushed.
She kissed him. He wasn’t expecting it, but he didn’t stop it. They kissed each other, mixed in with the tears, the passion, and the hope.
“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching,
And has taught me to understand what your heart used to be.
I have been bent and broken, but —I hope—
Into a better shape.”
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Hugs, tears, happiness, and relief: those were the emotions that Simon’s graduation was filled with. For many, it was a day of reckoning— the day when they were finally noticed and called upon to give a speech, accept a scholarship of some sort, or even just walk across the stage. After grade 11, the year went pretty quickly— because he was happy. There was no pain that screamed his name in his head, no shadows on the wall that seemed to taunt him over what he thought he was… no definite oblivion he thought he lived in.
“It’s here! It’s here! It’s here!” yelled Krissy down the hall and around the corner, trying not to trip on her lime-green grad dress.
“Yikes,” Liam said towards Simon.
He laughed, “Jesus, hey?”
For some reason he and the soccer team were on good terms. They lost by one point to advance into regionals, but everybody seemed to like each other again. Maybe they just wanted to be on good terms for their last few months together, or maybe it just didn’t matter anymore.
“Damn,” whispered Liam as he was facing the opposite way as Simon.
He gave a sideways glance and turned around, “What?”
“Hey,” Leala said.
Simon’s eyes widened as she came into full view. Her red dress matched his vest and tie, and the corsage on her wrist seemed to project a subtle, yet stark contrast upon her smooth white skin.
“Wow,” Simon muttered smiling, “You look great.”
She smiled back and grabbed his hand, “Thanks. Let’s go.”
The graduation ceremony was long. Well, longer than any other grads in previous years. His class had a whopping 18 kids, a town record as of yet. And so the crowd gazed at the graduates who were sitting on the stage, boys on the left and girls on the right.
“Too much crying,” whispered Simon to Liam who was seated beside him. He smiled and reached under his chair, pulling out a water bottle.
“Here, drink it.”
Simon gave a suspicious look at the water bottle. It was a whole 12 inches away from his nose and he could already smell the booze. He took a swig of it, and tried not to make a face at the sudden strength of the liquor.
Simon’s voice cracked, “Smooth,” and put the water bottle back where it had been.
The service carried on throughout the Friday evening in June, while each and every graduate walked across the stage and received their certificate. The ceremony carried on— slowly— but it was coming to an end.
“And now,” announced Mr. Finn, their grade 8 homeroom teacher and MC for the night, “we shall have the Valedictorian’s address. Simon?”
Simon stood up blushing and walked to the main podium. Looking over at the rest of the class, a mosaic of colors, he caught Leala within the midst. She was smiling at him, and so was Liam. In the middle of the large audience sat his family, smiling proudly. He began:
“There is a sense in which we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. Maybe it’s hope, maybe it’s destiny, or maybe it’s God. But I think as a whole, every individual who is graduating this night is made to be someone or be a part of something. Like high school, the world is made up of cliques. Over time, I have realized I’m not part of any ‘groups’. Now, that may sound rather naïve, but for me, it is my identity. As Elizabeth Gilbert has said, ‘Putting too much responsibility on a person is like asking them to swallow the sun.’ Defining ourselves by groups is just the same. For many, groups mean everything, but for some, groups mean nothing. This is what our class is made of; the pre-determined social pathos in which we reside. However, it makes us unique. No class in the history of St. Robert High School has been, or is as, unique as ours. We have laughed with each other, cried, fought… and everything you can think of. But honestly, where would be without each other? I’m not saying we will talk to each other after high school, I’m saying that we have all had an impact. No, we haven’t wasted away a third of our lives for something we might never come back to. For when you drive a vehicle, every kilometer counts. And with those kilometers, however long they may feel, they bring… an experience. A memory. A person. They bring… ourselves. Thank you.”
“When you carry through, to the lion cave
Does it frighten you, when you turn brave?”
Turn back now, or forever pray
That you can survive your delusions away.”
“And so we know the satisfaction of hate. We know the sweet joy of revenge. How it feels good to get even. Oh, that was a nice idea Jesus had. That was a pretty notion, but you can’t love people who do evil. It’s neither sensible or practical. It’s not wise to the world to love people who do such terrible wrong. There is no way on earth we can love our enemies. They’ll only do wickedness and hatefulness again. And worse, they’ll think they can get away with this wickedness and evil, because they’ll think we’re weak and afraid. What would the world come to?”
- Kent Haruf, Benediction
It was going to be another ordinary day: ride the bus, visit the children, buy groceries, bring food home on the bus, and kiss the wife when she arrives home from work.
“Dad,” said Lou as he walked into the house, “You know that riding the bus isn’t good for you, especially at your age!” She and her husband had recently gone through a divorce, after he was caught cheating on her with her “best friend”. She tried to seem accepting about it, considering he that he was rich and she was given the kids, but she was never the one to talk about her personal feelings.
“I am surprised to see you, but hi.” He kissed her on the cheek as he walked to set the groceries on the counter.
“And I may be old, but it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy life while it lasts!” said the dad enthusiastically. He put the milk, eggs, spinach, peppers, and carrots into the fridge, grabbed a vinyl record from the shelf, put it onto the record player, and dragged the needle to it. Sitting down, he grabbed his classic novel— some post-apocalyptic non-sense in which people massacred each other in an arena— while the slow somber melody of a beauty queen singer hummed in the background. She was his favourite singer, and her name reminded of the ocean in Greece, a place he lived for ten years.
“When is mom coming back?” asked Lou.
“I’m not sure, probably when work is over. She said she had a meeting… that damn bank. You know your grandmother worked at one?”
Lou rolled her eyes. “Yes. I know.”
The end of day sunlight shone through the grey translucent curtains, and the man flipped through the pages of his novel that he had received when he was 14.
“Dad, you have a message from Kit. He wants you to call him back,” mentioned Lou.
“Something about his ranch… or I don’t know. You know how he muffles with his ‘accent’ and all.”
He laughed. “Oh. Okay. I’ll call him back after his chapter.”
Lou didn’t look impressed but she sat in silence while her father read to himself. She walked over to him.
He let out a groan and asked sternly, “What now?”
She gave him a familiar look he knew all too well.
“Mom left you a note on the island.”
She sauntered to the bathroom as he grudgingly got up, scowling under his breath, “Damn people… leaving me messages all the time.” There in kitchen laid a note on the island, just as Lou said. It read:
“I’ll be home a little late. Don’t drink MY shot of vodka without me!! Love, L.”
Simon laughed, drank the two shots, and then proceeded to make supper, as Leala’s favourite song came on. He sang along, smiling.
Lou walked out of the washroom just as the record was changing to a slow and dramatic song, but suddenly she took the needle off the vinyl.
Simon stopped chopping the celery. “And that was for?”
“I don’t want to listen to her anymore,” Lou said.
“I do. So put it back on.”
She scoffed and grabbed a magazine that was resting on the shelf, and then walked to the island in the kitchen to take up a stool. “What is wrong with her today?” he thought.
“What is wrong with out today?”
“Nothing,” she said as she flipped the page.
“Simon was fed up at this point. “Look at me.”
“Look. At me,” he repeated.
She looked up, brushing a piece of her blonde hair out of her face.
“What’s wrong?” he said. “Ever since your divorce you’ve become… well you’ve become rather sensitive actually.
“It’s just been a bad day. So let it drop okay?”
“I’m not going to you know. So you might as well let me know what the hell is bothering you so much.”
“If I say will you leave me be?”
“Of course… I mean, I have lived with your mother for the last 40 years, so you were going to tell me sooner or later.” He lifted his eyebrows and gave her a smile.
“Okay. Well… I don’t know. It’s just… mom said that you were a ‘sad’ kid when you were growing up right?” she asked.
“Yes, but I got out of it when I was about17.” Simon bent on to the island with his hands together, resting his forearms on it.
“How did you manage?”
“I never did.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is that I was so sad, you could even call it depressed, that I didn’t think I would ever be happy again.”
“How did it start?”
“I guess you could say that when I turned 15 I figured out that people are terrible. Haven’t you realized that yet? They lie, they cheat, and they become selfish, jealous, angry… sad. And it’s because some of feel so much, all the time. We just feel. And yet, we become better because it’s all we have. The loss, the pain, the happiness, and just the plain and simple… happiness of seeing somebody smile at you… it’s that wave of emotion, when your anger surfaces, or when you know it can’t get any better… that’s what life is meant to be about. It’s all we have.”
Lou looked at him, speechless. She looked down, looked up, and then looked back down again. She was trying not to cry.
“What you said.”
“Oh. Well I know that. But that’s how I got better. I just… faced it.”
“But… how? If you knew all this… why didn’t you do something?”
“The biggest reason I thought that way, and still kind of do, was because I just hated everybody. I was friends with the people at school, but I started noticing their habits. Who they talked about behind that person’s back, who they all despised for no reason what’s so ever. And the minute I started sticking up for what I believed in, to be good to everyone, it turned around onto me.”
“Oh… I didn’t know that.”
“No one really does except for you mother; but enough about me, what about you? Are you…—”
“Because ever since that bastard cheated on me… I just feel like I’m in the same place I was ten years ago.”
Lou had suffered with depression ten years ago. Nobody really knew where it came from. It just popped out of nowhere, and while she was being treated she had met her now ex-husband Richard.
After a silence which seemed like forever, Simon spoke up.
“You haven’t been out of a relationship for what… ten years?” he asked.
“Umm… that sounds about right.”
“Okay, well then be single.”
“I have two kids, Dad.”
“So? You got married after being with him for three years or so, and then you stayed in Cleveland, Ohio for the next seven because his job transferred him. What I’m saying, is that you have to experience some alone time. Yes, it’ll be hard at first because when you’re alone on the bus, or just when you’re alone at home, you’ll start thinking. You’ll start thinking about your life and your friends…. And then you’ll look around and see people in relationships and you’ll think, ‘That’s what I want!’ You’ll even have the courage to put a face on whoever you secretly want right there… beside you. It resides. It always fades away. Because you begin to realize it’ll never happen. You’re left with an imaginary opening into a world in which you will never know. You’re left with a person who has no face, haunting you. But it fades… it has to, right?”
“I’m… I’m not sure. Is that what you felt when you first started dating mom?” she asked, wiping her eye. “Of course,” he thought. “Just like me. Never wants to show that she can feel.” Simon grabbed her hand and looked at her.
“God no… I got picked up on the rebound,” he said, winking.
She laughed, “Oh.”
“But it doesn’t mean I didn’t feel that way, though.”
“Thanks, Dad.” She smiled at him.
You’re welcome,” he answered. “Now go and wash up. We don’t want your mom seeing you emotional.” He laughed again.
Lou smiled at him, stood up, pushing the chair out of her way, and headed down into the basement where her old bedroom was. He chopped the rest of the celery, put them into the stir-fry, and then picked up the phone. Leala came through the door just as the phone started to ring.
“Hey.” He said quietly. Leala kissed his cheek, walked to the kitchen, and looked at where the two shots usually were. She cleared her throat sarcastically and tapped one of the glasses upside down onto the island looking at him.
“Every time I have a meeting,” she said.
Simon smiled at her and then said “hello” to Kit who just answered.
“Hold on, son, your mother’s about to get mad.”
“What did you do this time?” Kit asked.
“I drank her shot.”
He groaned. “Why would you do that?”
“It was a boring day. I needed some fun.”
Simon continued to talk to Kit, as Lou came up the stairs. She walked to the turntable, turned it back on, and then reduced the heat on the stove. A short time later, Simon hung up the phone. The three of them dished up the stir-fry on to their plates, and sat down at the island together. For the first time in a long while, they were a normal family again—ordinary, yet beautifully dysfunctional.